I love PhotoWeek DC. Maybe I should restate that: I love everything PhotoWeek DC stands for. Since 2008 some very hard-working group of folks have labored intensely to bring us this celebration of all things photography, with tens of exhibits around town and lectures galore by talented photographers that are pushing the boundaries of their creative and business talents. All of us living in the DC metropolitan area who spend endless hours behind our cameras should feel very fortunate to have such a festival right here in our back yard, and we do. Nevertheless, recent developments in the world of photography have made me wonder whether there are some aspects of photography that are not receiving their fare share of time at these gatherings. Put another way, I’m beginning to wonder whether the world of large prints, large cameras, and traditional portfolio review sessions continues to be emphasized in photo festivals as a defense mechanism against the emerging world of stock photo agencies, Tweeter, Instagram, and digital publications.
There is no doubt that today everyone seems to be a photographer. And without getting into the never-ending professional vs. amateur argument (which by the way is a fruitless discussion, as a good photograph is a good photograph no matter who takes it), it appears that some leading national magazines out there are pulling the rug from under the professional photographers’ feet by growingly getting their photos from everything from stock photo agencies to Instagram. Case in point: the recent (and controversial) Instagram cover photo on Time Magazine. Now, I don’t know that this is the future or anything like that, but judging from the vitriolic complaints about Time Magazine’s moves coming from professional photojournalists, this must be a really sensitive subject, to say the least. An amateur with an iPhone or one of those point-and-shoot cameras getting published on the cover of Time Magazine? Heresy. Unconscionable. The death of quality photography. You name it; it’s been said. And yet, photography continues to be all about “being there.” That is, about capturing a moment that has some sort of meaning to those looking at the photograph. What you use to capture this moment really doesn’t matter at the end. The videos and photos of Muammar Gaddafi during his last minutes on earth are no less valuable (or powerfull) as historical documents as a result of being recorded on a cell phone. In fact, it could be argued that as photography becomes more secularized, as evidenced by the widespread use of simpler and easily-transportable recording devices, the world of photography will be transformed in new and incredible creative ways. Chase Jarvis, the incredibly talented photographer, alludes to this new world of possibilities on a constant basis. Even though he sits at the top of his professional photographic career, he continues to preach the mantra that the best camera is the one that is with you when that great photo opportunity shows up. In fact, Chase celebrates all that is new and innovative in the creative arts, and that probably explains a lot of his success and his large number of followers. The photo industry (and yes, some photo shows and festivals) have yet to catch up to Chase and the legions of amateurs and Instagramers who roam the world and who by virtue of simply “being there” are the ones capturing great footage of events while they are happening. At the end of the day my friend, and as it has been from time immemorial, getting that picture is all that matters.